In a significant revelation, Dr. Naeem Dalal, the Advisor for Non-communicable Diseases, Injuries, and Mental Health at the Africa Centres for Diseases Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), has emphasized the urgent need to challenge cultural stereotypes hindering African men from seeking emotional and mental health support. This call comes as statistics specifically point to a higher rate of suicides among men on the continent.
Speaking at the International Conference on Public Health in Africa, Dr. Dalal, who is also a Psychiatrist from Lusaka, Zambia, shed light on the concerning trend during a parallel session on Youth Mental Health. The annual event, organized by the Africa CDC, is currently hosted by the Government of Zambia.
Dr. Dalal highlighted the need to differentiate between active and passive suicide and stressed that active suicide, where individuals take their own lives, is more prevalent among men. He explained, “For every 50 per cent of it, it is amongst the men that die, and this is because men use more lethal means of dying.”
Identifying cultural factors contributing to this trend, Dr. Dalal noted that societal expectations place a burden on men to be supportive, responsible, and breadwinners. This cultural conditioning discourages men from displaying vulnerability or seeking help for mental health issues.
He outlined the challenges faced, stating, “Men are taught not to be reaching out for help growing up as boys, and boys are told to be strong and responsible. So, this also causes an issue for men to reach out for mental health services, even when they are there.”
In addressing these challenges, Dr. Dalal discussed the ongoing efforts by Africa CDC, including flagship programs focusing on mental health advocacy, particularly for men’s health. Additionally, mental health fellowships are being introduced to build capacity among healthcare workers to specialize in mental health—a critical area that often faces reluctance within the healthcare sector.
To combat the rising suicide rates, Dr. Dalal emphasized the importance of advocacy, especially targeting the younger generation, as suicides are prevalent among individuals aged 15 to 29. The Africa CDC is actively involved in promoting policy changes that align mental health practices with current realities.
Commending Nigeria’s recent passage of a mental health bill, Dr. Dalal sees this as a positive step towards breaking barriers and repositioning Africa in the global health architecture.
The theme of CPHIA2023, “Breaking Barriers: Repositioning Africa in the Global Health Architecture,” underscores the need for collective efforts to address pressing health issues, including mental health, on the African continent.